Habitat assessment prioritization for Alaska stocks : report of the Alaska Regional Habitat Assessment Prioritization Coordination Team
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Habitat assessment prioritization for Alaska stocks : report of the Alaska Regional Habitat Assessment Prioritization Coordination Team

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    The significance of habitat to sustainable management of the Nation's fisheries was acknowledged by the U.S. Congress in 1996. The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act was amended by the Sustainable Fisheries Act of 1996 to include provisions for defining Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) as "those waters and substrate necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding or growth to maturity", applicable to all federally managed species and all of their life-history stages. The sheer magnitude of the EFH mandate and the general absence of dedicated funding prompted the agency to produce the Habitat Assessment Improvement Plan (HAIP) for marine fisheries. The HAIP had multiple objectives including the improvement and prioritization of habitat-science research activities related to stock assessments and EFH definitions. One of the key recommendations in the HAIP is that NMFS should develop criteria to prioritize stocks and geographic locations that would benefit from habitat assessments, meaning the process and products associated with consolidating, analyzing, and reporting the best available information on habitat characteristics relative to the population dynamics of fishery species and other living marine resources. This prompted formation of the national Habitat Assessment Prioritization Working Group (HAPWG) in 2011. The HAPWG developed national guidance for objectively scoring managed species/stocks on a standard set of rubrics. The prioritization process involved a sequential set of filters and scorable criteria intended to identify high, medium, and low priority stocks for future habitat assessments, both in terms of value to EFH designations and to address habitat-related uncertainty in stock assessments. A coordination team representing the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Alaska Regional Office, and the NMFS Office of Science and Technology adapted the generic prioritization process to the specific circumstances in the Alaska Region, assembled data and references to support online scoring, and arranged for the lead stock assessment authors to score their stock(s) from among the assembled list of managed stocks. As a result, a total of 69 stocks or stock complexes were individually evaluated by the stock-assessment authors including six crab stocks and one rockfish complex that are managed by the State of Alaska and three non-target species that were added at the request of the NPFMC Groundfish Plan Team. Fourteen stocks each in the stock assessment and EFH themes were identified as high priorities for habitat assessments, based on predetermined scoring thresholds for the Alaska Region. Overall, 17 different stocks were given high-priority status in one or the other theme and 11 stocks were prioritized in both themes. Upon completion, an internal review was conducted to assess the process and develop recommendations for future habitat-prioritization exercises. [doi:10.7289/V5/TM-AFSC-361 (https://doi.org/10.7289/V5/TM-AFSC-361)]
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